Deadly Friend (1986)
When the first shot of a film shows a robot gripper strangling a car thief, you know you're in for something special. Deadly Friend is a Wes Craven film that I hadn't heard of until just recently when it showed up in an Amazon review (don't confuse it with Craven's earlier Deadly Blessing); it was made 2 years after his success with A Nightmare on Elm Street and is based on the novel "Friend" by Diana Henstell. I like to think of it as an evil version of Short Circuit, which was also released in 1986 (btw, add that one to the list of 80s remakes currently in production).
This movie has a lot going for it in the nerd department. First of all, it features an actual robot (called BB), who is presumably being radio-controlled by an offscreen operator. She's huge and clunky, and is bright yellow. BB's owner and builder is Paul (played by Matthew Labyorteaux, who you may recognize as Albert from Little House on the Prairie, or more importantly as the main nerd from the Whiz Kids television show). He's a young computer and robotics genius, who likes to go on about mainframes and software upgrades, when he's not filling blackboards with flowcharts describing the finer points of artificial intelligence. And because BB is large and needs to go back and forth to school with him, Paul drives a van equipped with a special robot ramp.
BB talks in a sort of Jawa/Ewok type gibberish, which seems to be entirely vocalized (rather than going with either the voice synthesizer or bloop-beep route which were both more common at the time). She also has some great "machine vision" POV shots in the opening credit sequence; when someone makes BB mad later in the film, her machine vision becomes red-tinged and her mouth light glows red. Seems about right.
And there's a Charles Bernstein score! Pretty subtle synth work for the most part, with long drones, as well as some faster sequenced synth later in the film. The end credit music is also not to be missed: it consists of rhythmic BB samples (BB-B-buh-B-buh-BB) accompanied by slap bass; I imagine that this was performed with either an E-mu Emulator or Ensoniq Mirage (which had just been released).
Deadly Friend has some surprising moments of gore, including an oft-cited decapitation-by-basketball sequence (even the robot seems amused when that happens). Before release, much of the gore was cut down in order to avoid an X rating; thankfully the DVD restores much of this deleted footage.
A few things I'd like you to notice as you're watching Deadly Friend:
- Creepy, sweaty dad
- A great cut from Paul performing experimental brain surgery to filling being scooped out of a pumpkin head.
- The credit sequence features a footage-through-typography effect that reminds me a lot of the title card in Maniac Cop.
- Many close-up shots of Paul's digital watch during the 3rd act.